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University of Maryland begins testing Zika vaccine

The University of Maryland School of Medicine began testing a new vaccine for Zika this week, injecting it into 18 healthy volunteers from the campus and the community.

Maryland is one of three testing sites for vaccine developed by the National Institutes of Health. The others are Emory University in Atlanta and the NIH Clinical Center in Bethesda.

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The vaccine is also one of several in the works to prevent Zika, which became a public health emergency when scientists discovered it causes microcepahy, a severe birth defect characterized by small heads and brains in the fetuses of infected women.

Zika infections have been widespread in Central and South America, but there are nearly 3,000 cases reported in the United States, including 671 in pregnant women. There have been 89 cases reported so far in Maryland, with 38 in the Baltimore metro area.

The vaccine tested at Maryland uses the DNA code for Zika rather than live virus. It builds on a similar vaccine developed for West Nile virus. Scientists believe that once the vaccine is injected, a person will respond by creating antibodies and that protect against the virus. It can't cause an infection.

While efforts to develop a vaccine have been expedited, the trial process has just begun and will take time, said Dr. Kathleen M. Neuzil, director of the Center for Vaccine Development in the university's school of medicine.

Another 12 volunteers will be vaccinated later this month, said Dr. Monica McArthur, the principal investigator for the Maryland trial.

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